Volleyball was a large part of my life, until the day it stopped being fun. The slide was gradual but it happened, eventually, because there came a time when going to practice became a chore. Prepping for game day turned into an errand I didn’t want to run. Teammates weren’t enjoyable to be around. I could have cared less about wins and losses. Even pick-up games during the off-season held little interest.
I stepped away from the sport I loved the first time after three years at the collegiate level. I’d had a good time and amassed plenty of great experiences. The politics and disappointing encounters are what made me throw in the towel and not commit further.
The second time I called it quits I was an ocean away and three years older. At the next level, I played on a team that never gelled and struggled due to a lack of camaraderie. I’m sure it didn’t help I was occupied with school, and 100% homesick, and dealt with a body that was a mess and had become part of the resistance.
By that point, I had torn this muscle and irritated that tendon. I’d rolled my ankle time and again from coming down on someone else’s toes and jammed my fingers off the block more times than I could count.
Before long, the amusement and thrill disappeared. I couldn’t even look at a volleyball.
I ended on a note that left a bad taste in my mouth.
We all face difficult choices in life. No one is exempt from hardship. Each decision we make falls somewhere on a scale of 0 to 10, with seven and up being the troublesome territory. In my case, breaking up with volleyball clocked in at a solid eight. It’s not easy to walk away from something you believe defines who you are.
Ask any athlete or sport enthusiast: it’s hard to take leave from a skill set you’ve honed for decades or a talent you could not see through to the end. It was challenging to step off the court as it was the place I felt safest—even though it was the site of busted lips, knees, and elbows. (That’s what happens when you hit the floor at high velocity.)
In retrospect, letting go was less about ego or competitive highs than it was about leaving behind the person I became the moment I stepped on the hardwood floor. Between the lines, I didn’t have to be anyone else. My height and long-limbs were a blessing instead of a freak-show impediment. With practice, I got better. The right people in my corner helped me excel. I accomplished a lot over 15 years.
No wonder a void manifested in the pit of my stomach when I said, “see ya.” A big, black hole formed that I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to fill.
Over the years, I tried to stitch up the wound belonging to my former self, stuffing all sorts of things into the hungry, gaping maw. Words. Food. Travel. Dangerous liaisons. Extreme sports. Heartbreak. Education. Alcohol. Running. Yoga. But it wasn’t until I played volleyball in a league when I moved to New York that all the reasons for why I stopped playing crystallized. I understood all things have a natural expiry date.
Part of our work is learning how to live with the void, and all the things we leave behind.
Echoes of those growing pains boomeranged in my face recently. See, I’ve been tiptoeing the line of demarcation with boxing. The last two months haven’t been much fun. Annoyed and frustrated, I currently play Russian roulette with an imaginary single bullet inscribed with “fuck this” that sits in the cylinder. I know the problem includes a mild Type-A complex, and trouble dropping expectations, and need for responses to questions that might not have answers.
To top it off, old injuries have surfaced, while the isolation of a combat sport, like boxing, has become overwhelming for someone used to a team dynamic. I might continue to tread water but I feel like I’m drowning in the deep end. The thrill I once felt putting on the gloves has completely escaped me.
It’s why I’ve been quiet about boxing the last month. I’m trying to sort out where I’m headed, with whom, and how. Who knows? Maybe I’ll close this door and open another. Or, perhaps, I’ll pivot slightly and change my outlook along with my direction.
I’ve spent the last month thinking a lot about my departure from the things I used to love doing and concluded the element of “play” is what went missing. Getting back that lost enjoyment isn’t easy—the route can be long and circuitous. And, try as we might, there’s a chance we won’t find our way back to the place where the rush sustained everything.
It’s why I linger on the following mantra: there is a time for everything. A time to dance, play, fight, and walk away. There are occasions when we need to sit with our demons long enough for guidance or knowing to surface and interject. On others, the only thing to do, when our backs are pressed against the wall, is assume the fetal position. On the floor, we can assess the situation and feel things out until we arrive at a foregone conclusion.
Forging a new career? Moving to a new town? Taking on a new hobby? Saying goodbye to someone or something that no longer fits? Determining what to do, and when, is tricky but there’s nothing wrong with taking a seat and getting friendly with discomfort and indecision. It might be the only way to accept what is and turn a situation around, or figure out what you are willing to give up.
Ultimately, there are many ways to break free from what doesn’t work and multiple paths to transformation. What counts most is remembering any choice worth making involves a fair amount of time-consuming and exhaustive effort, but it’s the only way to determine what path to get off or on.
It’s how we close one chapter and make room for another.